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Five Cent Cine At Home: Shoplifters

Not your ordinary family

The “family” living together in one exceedingly crowded room consists of the grandmother, father, mother, adolescent son, and the mother’s younger sister. Early on they reluctantly take in a young neighbor being abused by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. She’s called “Yuri,” which may or may not be her name. Indeed, none of the family members may be who they seem. There’s a temptation to whisper to one’s movie-going partner, “Now is she the mother? Is he her son?” It turns out this confusion is at the heart of acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning portrait of Tokyo’s underclass, eking out a communal living in the wealthy metropolis.

None of the family members may be who they seem.

The “family’s” means of making money are all suspect or tenuous. The grandmother taps the welfare state by pretending she’s the only one living in the subsidized home now housing six people, and she takes money off her husband’s son by a second marriage by playing the grieving widow whose husband was stolen by another woman. The mother loses her low-level job as an ironer in a factory because of the family’s vulnerability. The younger woman works – seemingly without guilt – in a peep-show. The father (an intense and affecting Lily Franky) shoplifts. He’s also taught Shota, the adolescent, how to shoplift. “What else do I have to teach him?” he says. And Shota tells his new friend Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) that only children who aren’t taught at home go to school. Despite their perilous state, the group has its pleasures, including crowding onto their tiny back porch to listen to fireworks they can’t see, a metaphor for their off-the-grid life.

The fabric that holds the group together starts unravelling when Shota (portrayed with emotional nuance by Jyo Kairi) is shamed by a shop owner as he begins to teach Yuri the trade. The fraying, and in the process, the revealing, of the family relationships occurs swiftly and shockingly, leaving the audience to ponder the meaning of this extraordinary family and its relationship to blood, poverty, petty crime, guilt, money and love.

Date: 2018

Shoplifters ★★★ 1/2 (out of 4 stars)

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Saski, Kirin Kiki, Mayu Matsuoka.

Subtitled: in English; Language: Japanese

Oscars: Oscar nominee for best foreign language film (Japan) 

Runtime: 121 minutes

Available: Streaming: Hulu; for rent or purchase Amazon, Redbox, and elsewhere; see JustWatch here.

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Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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